Born Ruth Mwihaki 28 years ago in Kiambu County, Ryan Muiruri has had to fight off stigma, abuse and suicide to prove that he is indeed male.
When his mother delivered him, she noticed that her first born child had ambiguous genitalia displaying both male and female organs. His father of the child immediately took off, claiming that it was a
sign of bad omen. Unsure of how the rest of the community would react, Ryan’s mother decided to raise her child as a girl and never to speak of the condition ever again.
“I hate the day I was born. I don’t know the exact date of my birthday because to me, that is the day my woes in this world started,” Ryan says.
The first time Ryan came to the realisation that he was different, he was five. While playing with his friends, some who were a bit older started taunting him telling him that he was different. They stripped him naked and laughed while pointing at his penis.
“My aunties had also started talking in hushed tones, pointing at me suspiciously. When the children stripped me, it was a confirmation that I was not like other people. I was embarrassed and became withdrawn”.
A mixture of shame, taboo, and a lack of awareness has meant that many of Kenya's intersex people have found out about their condition only after they pass puberty.
In mannerism, Ryan was taught to behave like a girl. In character, however he always felt he was male. When he hit puberty, Ryan’s voice broke, his chest remained flat while his hips remained straight.
He then joined a girls’ secondary school where he had to wake up at 3 am to shower before the other girls woke up.
“That was a whole new experience altogether, you know at puberty that’s when your body starts to react to the opposite sex, so I found that I was getting attracted to some of the girls. The girls also had noticed that I was different and would write me love letters. I was accused of encouraging lesbianism and subsequently suspended” he recounts.
He moved to a local day secondary school. At the day school he would be reunited with most of his childhood friends with whom he attended primary school with.
They already had had a head start on the trolling so Ryan decided to quit school during his first term in Form Two and live in the streets.
“I ran away to Nakuru town where nobody knew me or my past.”
During his time in the streets, he lived as a man and only conveniently return to being female when he went back home.
After a year, Ryan went back home after some convincing from his mother. One of his aunties encouraged him to get an identification card so she could get him a job.
“If I only knew that that piece of identification would bring me so much tribulation, I wouldn’t have gotten it. Nowadays I don’t carry it with me.”
Ryan’s ID card reads Ruth Mwihaki Wangui. As a result, he has been denied entry and services at various places and accused of impersonation.
An incident at the bank saw him beaten up by the security officers who accused him of impersonating another person to obtain money from his account. It took a lot of explaining from Ryan for them to understand, but the damage had already been done.
Ryan further revealed that the stigma became worse when he was kidnapped by unknown men who were curious about his condition.
“They stripped me naked and whatever they saw made them freak out and they just ran away.”
At some point, a distraught Ryan attempted suicide seven times. He is currently an activist and the founder of the Intersex People Society of Kenya.
“Many children born intersex are usually killed at birth, we have been trying to sensitise parents and letting them know that they are not alone.
Intersex people rarely get a chance to finish school. Many drop out due to stigma. If we can create more awareness surrounding the issue then maybe the society would be accepting,” Ryan says.
He reveals that through nominated senator Isaac Mwaura, they are pushing for a bill that will see intersex individuals considered as a third gender in the country.